Grassroots Fundraising 2013—What Is Working?

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I used to be friends with someone who would send me copies of the appeals that they got through the mail, with full commentary written in the margins. Between that and the Grassroots Fundraising Journal and discussions with a man who was a direct mail mogul, I learned a bunch.

But over time direct mail grew to require too much time and money to produce much net gain for most groups. There were costs associated with the mailings themselves, with buying lists, with testing various ways of approaching a set of donors, and with keeping up relationships even when you were not asking for money. And on and on.

And the market had gotten tired of the mounds of direct mail shoved through our mail slots every day, too. Some of the mailings became strident in tone, attempting to shame people: “You haven’t given? How many frogs have expired while you were not paying attention?” We received missives from unbearably rich people asking us to give to their favorite causes. Why should I? Why don’t you give my portion? Another friend asked me why George Soros was whining about money to him. He lived in a rental unit while George…well, he doesn’t rent.

But, the oddest appeals have worked from time to time.

Then came MoveOn and the idea that fundraising was not the point—engagement was, and that the engagement would provide capital of many kinds. WikiLeaks and many other groups reinforced this link between action and cash—a link, by the way, that was long established even before anything got firmly online. This changed our conceptual base a bit—and now so-called “crowdfunding” is taking the corporate as well as the nonprofit universe by storm. And the mix complexifies.

It’s a big crazy world out there, lots of ways to be involved, and so we have to ask: How are you approaching fundraising differently? What have you done that has worked or failed? What lessons do you think you have learned?

Share your wisdom in a comment or a short article. We will all thank you for it.


  • Jim Lynch


    We’re getting lots of hits from my colleague Ginny MIes’ TechSoup piece:

    Which Crowdfunding Platform Is Best for Your Organization?


    One thing I’ve learned and had affirmed is not to advise clients to give up on paper appeals. Depending on the organization, it may have _many donors who don’t really use email–even ones with email addresses. (If pressed, these are the folks who respond, “I have email but I don’t check it.” You know who you are!)

    It’s just smart to plan appeals to go out via both hard-copy and e-mail/social media, if you keep records decent enough that you know which to send whom.

    I also like the impact email and social media have had on the LENGTH of appeals. There is no harm done to any appeal by shortening it up quite a bit more than we its adoring authors might initially craft it.

    I’ve also enjoyed that with some tweaking, the appeal can go up on a frequently refreshed “Donate” page of the website. It’s not enough to keep website-housed fundraising fresh for all new visitors, but it does help keep ’em coming.